Murie, Olaus J. (1959) FAUNA OF THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS AND ALASKA PENINSULA, 1936-38, U.S. Dept. Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington. pg. 309
Harbor Seal: Phoca vltulina
Phoca vitulina richardii
Local name: Hair Seal
Aleut names: Attu: Ish'-u-gich
Aleut (dialect?) : Isv.kh (Geoghegan)
Hisook (Wetmore, at Morzhovoi Bay)
Russian, Siberia (Gichiga) : Ola (Buxton)
Russian, lkhotsk, Ayan, Pengina, and Marcova: Largha (Buxton)
It is interesting to note that Nelson (1887, p. 262) gives Ishgik as the Eskimo name for the ringed seal (Pusa hispida), which is extremely rare, or absent, in the Aleutians, and is not distin- guished from Phoca vitulina by the Aleuts.
The harbor seal occurs all along the southern Alaskan coast, and throughout the length of the Aleutians. We did not find it to be particularly abundant, but we sighted single animals or small groups here and there. In 1925, it was rather common along the Bering Sea side of Alaska Peninsula.
In his revision of the Genus Phoca, Doutt (1942, p. 120) identified specimens of this race from Alaska Peninsula between Katmai and Kanatak and between Portage Bay and Becharof Lake, from Izembek Bay, Nagai Island in the Shumagins, from Kagamil Island, and from Adak Island. He gave the range of this form as the "American side of the North Pacific Ocean." Obviously, this is the seal of the Aleutian district, but there is a possibility that the more western form, P. v. largha, may occur near the western islands.
These seals will enter fresh water. Osgood (1904, p. 49) mentions reports of a spotted seal living in the fresh waters of Lake Iliamna, and he says that most of those killed were taken either near the outlet of the lake or in Kvichak River, "which seems to indicate that the animals whether distinct or not, go back and forth from Bristol Bay to Lake Iliamna."
Among the Aleutian Islands, seals were usually found in the kelp beds, but they do not always seek such a habitat. I had a fine opportunity to study these animals in the spring and summer of 1925, at Unimak Island and at the west end of Alaska Peninsula. They were very common at that time. They hauled out on the boulders of the reef at Amagat Island and basked on the kelp-covered boulders near the beaches of Amak Island. In Urilia Bay, they hauled out on the sand along the entrance to Rosenberg Lagoon, and in Izembek Bay they hauled out on shoals and sandbars at low tide. A small sand island in the channel between Operl and Neumann Islands was a favorite hauling-out place.
Seals pick a resting place that provides ready escape, always near deep water. If the ebbing tide recedes from a boulder on which a seal is resting, the animal will move to another rock, nearer to deeper water. When navigating the shallow Izembek Bay with our whaleboat, we could steer a deep-water course by noting the location of resting seals.
Mothers and pups appear to be very affectionate, swimming near each other and occasionally touching noses. A little one would try to climb to its mother's perch on a rock. After a while, the mother might lazily roll into the water to join it; later, both might be able to clamber out on the same perch.
On June 17, a young seal was taken for a specimen — the stomach was filled with milk. On July 10, Stevenson and I each observed a pup nursing.
We found a number of deserted pups, probably those whose mothers had been killed. A deserted pup had been picked up at False Pass in May. On June 16, I found a pup on Neumann Island, at the edge of the grass far from water, since the tide had ebbed. A dead pup lay on a hauling place on a small sand island. A very lean pup was found on Glen Island on June 30 ; when we approached, it hurriedly scrambled into the sea. We noted a dead pup on this island on July 27. On June 17, a pup was swimming near the beach calling for its mother. We answered its call, and it responded several times by coming out on the sand at our feet, but it retreated hastily when it learned its mistake, and finally it swam out to sea. The pups have a plaintive, moaning call, which is quickly identified by the mother. The adults have a lower and more raucous voice.
On July 27, a partially blind seal swam near the beach at Glen Island. One eye was white, and the other was partly white. It could see me only when it faced me squarely.
On June 17, it was noticed that the seals were shedding their hair. Old hair was found in their beds, where they had been basking on the beach. At this time, some were a dirty yellowish color; some were mixed, partly light and partly dark; and others were all dark. Evidently, these color variations were stages of pelage change.
On June 24, 1937, a female seal was taken for a specimen at Khvostof Island, and her pup was kept alive for a time. Part of the navel cord was still attached, and it was evident that the pup was recently born. It had the typical dark, spotted coat of this species of seal. The mother weighed 220 pounds.
As one would expect, the seal was much prized by the Aleuts, and was used for food and for other purposes. Wetmore, writing of Unalaska and neighboring islands in 1911, stated that "The hide is used for various purposes and oil is tried out of the blubber. The gut is split and dried and used for many purposes. It is sold in the store like cloth at about 15 cents a yard."